Obama Delivers Naval Academy Commencement Address

"I will only send you into harm's way when it is absolutely necessary, and with the strategy, the well-defined goals, the equipment and the support you need," the president says.
By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 22, 2009; 3:56 PM

President Obama delivered his first service academy commencement address as commander in chief today, saluting the commitment made by more than 1,000 graduates of the United States Naval Academy, while reminding them that they are global representatives of American values.

On a sunny morning in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Obama told the class sitting before him in crisp dress uniforms that they have sworn to defend not only the country, but also the values enshrined in the Constitution.

Echoing themes from a speech he delivered yesterday to explain why his national security efforts must align with the liberties enshrined in the nation's founding documents, the president said that to do less would ultimately leave the nation more vulnerable.

"We uphold our fundamental principles and values not just because we choose to, but because we swear to," Obama said. "Not because they feel good, but because they help keep us safe."

Obama praised the graduates, saying they represent the best of the American character at a time when he said insufficient numbers of citizens are moved to service.

"America, look at these young men and women. Look at these sailors and Marines. Here are the values we cherish. Here are the ideals that endure," he said. "In an era when too few citizens answer the call to service -- to community or country -- these Americans chose to serve. And they did so in a time of war, knowing they might be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice."

Obama also noted the diversity of the graduating class, which is more than 20 percent minority and 20 percent female, and whose members come from "every state and every corner of the world."

"By building an institution that is more diverse than ever -- more women, more Hispanics, more African Americans -- the Naval Academy has reaffirmed a fundamental American truth: that out of many, we are one," Obama said.

Among the graduates crossing the stage and receiving a handshake from the president was John S. McCain IV, son of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who Obama defeated in November and a fourth generation Naval Academy graduate.

In his 20-minute speech, Obama noted the skill and power wielded by the military. He said they would be needed to confront a wide array of enemies.

"We must overcome the full spectrum of threats. The conventional and the unconventional. The nation-state and the terrorist network," he said. "The spread of deadly technologies and of hateful ideologies. Eighteenth-century-style piracy and 21st-century cyber threats."

Those threats will be defeated not just with raw military power, he said, but also by projecting American values, enlisting new allies, and redoubling U.S. diplomatic efforts.

Obama promised the graduates that although they will now be central to efforts to end the war in Iraq and win the one in Afghanistan, he would be very judicious about sending them into future conflicts.

"I will only send you into harm's way when it is absolutely necessary, and with the strategy, the well-defined goals, the equipment and the support you need to get the job done," he said.

"And to get you the support you need, we're enlisting all elements of our national power -- our diplomacy and development and our economic might and our moral suasion -- so that you and the rest of our military do not bear the burden of our security alone," he added.

After his remarks, Obama stood under an awning that covered a platform on the football field, shaking the hands of the 1,036 graduates -- the vast majority of whom are now Navy ensigns and Marine second lieutenants -- as they received their diplomas.

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